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Spain 2004
Directed by
Alejandro Amenabar
126 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Sharon Hurst
4 stars

The Sea Inside

Synopsis: Ramon Sampedro (Javier Bardem) became a quadriplegic at the age of 25. For 30 years he has been paralysed, cared for by his family of brother, sister-in-law, father and nephew. He has also long been challenging the Spanish legal system to grant his wish to die. As his plea intensifies, two women grow to love him - his lawyer Julia (Belen Rueda), who is also facing a life crisis, and Rosa (Lola Duenas), a bubbly single mother. Through them Ramon explores the many facets of what it means to truly love another human being.

Javier Bardem's multi-award winning role in Before Night Falls is surpassed here with a tour de force as Ramon. Transformed with the aid of make-up but most importantly by his complete assuming of Ramon's persona and physical condition the athletic 35 year old Bardem totally merges into a character who is at once intelligent, witty, depressed and resigned, but above all, physically unable to do much except lie in one spot and write painstakingly using a pen held in his mouth. When asked by Rosa why he smiles all the time, Ramon replies "You learn to cry with a smile", and it is the fact that the actor portrays this co-existence of conflicting emotions only with his face that makes for such a rivetting performance.

Rueda, a Spanish TV personality and Duenas are sublime in their roles as two very different women whilst the smaller roles are imbued with similar authenticity, though most are played by relatively inexperienced film actors. Theatre actress Clara Segura plays Gene, leader of a group called the Right to Die with Dignity, and she brings a cheery, pragmatic approach to a fraught topic. Each character has his or her own interpretation of love - sister in law Manuela loves and tends Ramon like a mother, while brother Jose, as head of the family, is appalled that he cannot forcibly prevent Ramon from pursuing his death wish. Ramon questions whether he is even entitled to love, given his condition.

Whilst my one reservation would be that at times the script tends towards didacticism, as the various characters espouse their philosophies on the right to choose to live or die, director Amenabar imbues his film with emotions that are complex, ambivalent and deep as his characters articulate the vexatious questions raised by Ramon's condition. Using the achingly beautiful aria, Nessun Dorma, he gives us insight into Ramon's ability to visualise himself rising above his affliction, and elsewhere uses his own compositions - music with a decidedly upbeat Celtic feel. He delicately intercuts brief moments, flashing back to Ramon's accident, with Julia riffling through old photos of Ramon's early life. Yet amid all the sadness there is also immense humour, and a wonderful interplay of scenes that celebrate what it means to be alive.

You might be forgiven for thinking the film, based on the true story, would be a real downer, it is in fact ultimately an uplifting piece of cinema, both for its content and the remarkable interpretation the filmmaker and his cast bring to the story.




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